I am of the opinion that going through a mental illness is at least equally difficult for the close family and friends as it is for the person experiencing the illness.
That might sound surprising, but there are a lot of illnesses that are like that, like dementia, for instance.
The reason I say this is because as a person who experiences extreme depression, months long bouts of insomnia, extreme agitation, and severe anxiety, I really don’t have much expectation of where I will be emotionally an hour from now, let alone tomorrow or next week. It isn’t in my nature to remain stable for very long.
Of course, a lot of the people closest to you deal with that uncertainty as well. And the defense mechanism for everyone around is to prepare for the worst. That is how humans deal with stuff. Prepare for the worst and you will at least always be prepared.
The toll on my life when I stay home from work and drink all day long is basically just extending and possibly slightly deepening my current state. But the toll taken on my wife when she comes home from a day at work to find me like that can be serious. Worse yet, the toll taken as she spends her day worrying what she will come home to is devastating.
I know that the things I have done and said and put my wife through since we have gotten married has damaged both of us, weakened our marriage, built road blocks on our journey forward.
I know that I will do it again someday. And what does she have? Her hope can’t be for a life without my illness affecting us, that isn’t possible. Her hope has a ceiling somewhere near ‘isn’t so damaging’; i.e. ‘I hope the next time isn’t so damaging’.
I can’t really imagine the stress of that, having that hanging over her head.
When I publish a particularly dark blog, she will invariably get calls and texts that say ‘I don’t know how you deal with that, I couldn’t, I would have to leave’.
And I can’t disagree.
The people who support the people who are mentally ill, particularly bipolar, have signed up to be in the passenger seat for a pick your own adventure story where a majority of choices put them face to face with a monster.
That is a difficult path. And I know many people support their loved ones through terrible illness. And often those are far more taxing than bipolar. However, bipolar offers very unique challenges. It sets in at a young age, usually by the age of 27. It can be difficult or even impossible to predict mood swings. It is associated with a lot of other destructive behavior and addictions. There can be violence, aggression and physical or verbal abuse. And just so much is built into the not knowing. Most illnesses progress, either better or worse, but it is incremental. Bipolar is just all over the place.
Everyone understands how difficult it is to care for someone with a physical illness. I think we should recognize this with mental illness as well.
When I am doing poorly, it is probably more important to make sure my wife is doing ok than checking up on me.
I have her for support, but who does she have?